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THE Israeli military said yesterday it has reprimanded two high-ranking officers for approving the firing of artillery shells toward a UN compound during the Gaza Strip war last year – the first admission of any high-level wrongdoing during the offensive.
Israel announced the punishment in a document submitted to the United Nations in response to a UN report accusing Israel’s military of committing war crimes, including the use of white phosphorus, an incendiary munition.
Israel is trying to avoid the threat of war crimes proceedings if it does not carry out an independent investigation into the military’s conduct during the fighting. There was no immediate comment from UN officials.
The artillery attack, which took place while more than 700 Palestinian civilians were taking refuge in the compound, set ablaze a warehouse that services more than one million Gazans; thousands of pounds of food and other aid were destroyed.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon was visiting the region at the time, and three people were wounded, according to UN officials.
Israel has said militants fired on Israeli troops from the compound – a charge the UN disputes.
Nonetheless, the Israeli report said, a brigadier general and a colonel “exceeded their authority in a manner that jeopardised the lives of others” by authorising the firing of artillery shells in the area.
Military officials denied a Haaretz newspaper report that the officers were reprimanded for firing white phosphorous shells.
The use of white phosphorus is legal in some war situations, but its use in built-up areas of Gaza has resulted in war crimes allegations.
“The most important thing that I want to emphasise is we have absolutely nothing to hide,” said military spokesman Capt Barak Raz.
Israeli newspapers and radio stations identified the two reprimanded officers as Gaza division commander Brig Gen Eyal Eisenberg and Col Ilan Malka, then-commander of the elite Givati brigade.
Israel claims to have launched the war to end Palestinian rocket attacks on its southern civilians.
More than 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 900 civilians, were killed, along with 13 Israelis. Large areas of Gaza were devastated and remain so due to the Israeli and Egyptian blockade preventing construction.
The UN report, authored by veteran war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone, has accused Israel of using disproportionate force and deliberately targeting civilians. It also accused Hamas of firing rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians.
Both sides reject the charges. They have until this Friday to respond, but have signalled they will not allow credible, independent probes.
In Gaza, Hamas spokes- man Fawzi Barhoum said the punishment of the two officers were “clear proof” that Israel committed war crimes. He said the rulings were a “preemptive step” to escape war crimes prosecution, and urged the international community to put Israelis on trial. He made no mention of the charges against Hamas.
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